Young Farmers Face Financial Challenges but Also Have Opportunities

Groundbreakers’ lending program offers discounted rates and flexible underwriting for young and beginning farmers with less equity, less cash on hand and lower debt repayment capacity.

The second part of Groundbreakers offers grants that can be used primarily to improve business and operation management skills for young or beginning farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Illinois. The third part is education and outreach opportunities for farmers to gather insight and expertise from other farmers.

“Groundbreakers is a program that’s committed to making their vision a reality,” Kennedy said.

Speaking on behalf of Farm Credit Illinois, Caleb May, a regional manager, said farm credit associations have a mission to serve the industry and introduced a program called Fresh Roots for young and beginning farmers.

One part of Fresh Roots is the lending aspect — focused primarily on farm real estate loans and operating loans — up to $1 million with relaxed underwriting standards. Another aspect of Fresh Roots is the finance workshops, such as the nuts and bolts of balance sheets and fielding forward crop insurance. Farm Credit Illinois also has a recognition piece in connection with Fresh Roots where loan recipients can win a $5,000 prize.

Crystal Zwilling, with the USDA Illinois Farm Service Agency, discussed opportunities for young farmers to get help with down payments, operating loans and/or loans for machinery, equipment or livestock. She also discussed how the FSA partners with farm credit finance bureaus like Farm Credit Illinois and Compeer to take on part of the loans.

“(The Down Payment)5-45-50 program is only available to beginning or historically underserved producers. With a minimum of 5% down, FSA will provide 45% and the other 50% will come from a partner agency. The term loan is 20 years and the maximum amount of $300,150,” Zwilling said.

FSA also has micro loan programs for beginning farmers that better serve unique financial operating needs for small to mid-sized farms.

John Gehrke, the chief of Farm Loan Programs at USDA Illinois FSA, said he highly recommends these programs.

Susan Payne can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @jpusan